Interviews‎ > ‎

"There are no politics here” - Grigory Melkonyants on the rally in support of political prisoners

posted 9 Oct 2019, 11:39 by Translation Service   [ updated 9 Oct 2019, 11:39 ]

30 September 2019

The Agency for Social Information (ASI) spoke with Grigory Melkonyants, human rights activist and co-chair of Golos, and learned how “Let Them Go” differs from previous rallies and what changes in the affairs of political prisoners human rights organizations are awaiting.

On 29 September, on Academician Sakharov Prospect in Moscow, an authorized rally, “Let Them Go,” was held in support of political prisoners. It was specifically devoted to those charged and convicted in the “Moscow affair.”

Grigory Melkonyants was a public observer at the 29 September action. “This is the most massive rally devoted to political prisoners in my memory. Rallies have been held for free and fair elections and political demands have been presented. In August there was a political rally with an election subtext, but there are no politics here; it is a call to release people who are guilty of nothing,” Melkonyants told ASI.

In his opinion, it represents a qualitative change in the public agenda.

The demand for justice has begun to be heard from various spheres, and this, Melkonyants believes, is what has attracted so many people. According to the data gathered by White Counter, “Let Them Go” assembled 25,000 people.

“The authorities treated this rally in a new way, too, as was immediately clear to the participants. Unlike past actions, law enforcement agencies were practically invisible. Dump trucks to block off streets and the view weren’t used, either,” the human rights activist remarked. He added that the MVD [Interior Ministry] provided objective data on the number of rally participants, and this is a signal that the state is changing its attitude toward such undertakings.

“This time everything was done properly: it began peacefully and ended peacefully,” Melkonyants said.

Taboo Virtually Lifted

“We are seeing that this solidarity manifested by society has had an effect on court rulings, but these are isolated decisions regarding individuals on whose behalf they are specifically stepping in. This rally showed that a large number of people are prepared to defend others on issues that did not bother them before — the issues of political prisoners. Previously, this was a narrow human rights activity that now is spreading into the mainstream,” Melkonyants remarked.

He also mentioned various projects and services that now accompany mass meetings: OVD-Info, which renders informational and legal support; and the large number of lawyers prepared to travel to see those detained and win their release in police departments and courts.

“We are seeing the public collecting money to pay fines in administrative cases. And people (the detained and convicted. -- Ed.) feel they aren’t alone. There is a serious transformation under way in attitudes toward law enforcement opposition,” the human rights activist remarked.

To the evolution in the public’s attitudes toward actions he added as well the high-profile letters written by various organizations in support of figures in the “Moscow affair.”

“Since the taboo on support for political prisoners has virtually been lifted, we should expect the sphere of professional support to grow and public opinion leaders in their spheres to continue to speak out in defence of those convicted who did not commit crimes,” Melkonyants said.

Not Enough for Everyone

“Even this broad coalition of various professional groups doesn’t have enough strength to win the release of everyone detained,” the human rights activist believes. “After all, this is a matter not only of rally participants.”

According to him, if a conversation about the need for full-scale reform of the law enforcement and legal systems is not begun, the struggle will have little effect. Society throughout the country simply cannot consistently maintain this kind of tone and defend people accused of something they didn’t do. This reform is the main demand that should be heard, apart from political prisoners’ individual cases,” Melkonyants concluded.


On 30 September, Memorial said that two more people accused of riot during the summer protests in Moscow are now political prisoners: Eduard Malyshevsky and Nikita Chirtsov. Previously, the human rights organization had declared had declared nine people detained in the “Moscow affair” political prisoners.

Human rights defendersactors, priests and teachers, psychologists and psychotherapists have come out with open letters in defence of those arrested.

On 20 September, actor Pavel Ustinov was released under travel restrictions. After this, a wide-scale campaign opened throughout the country for the release of all figures in the “Moscow affair.” On 30 September, his sentence was changed from three-and-a-half years'
imprisonment to one year instead. On 26 September, Aleksei Minyailo, who has been in a pre-trial detention centre since August, was released in the courtroom.

Translated by Marian Schwartz